More CRP land expires than enrolled, FSA says
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Much more acreage is set to expire Sept. 30 from the federal Conservation Reserve Program than was awarded during the recent general signup period, according to the Farm Service Agency.
Nationally, 1.7 million acres were accepted into the program, compared with 3.3 million expiring acres. The 1.6 million-acre reduction will bring total participation in the U.S. CRP program down to 25.4 million acres.
New contracts were awarded for 50,954 Idaho acres, compared with 63,000 scheduled to expire from the program, said Ron Abbott, farm programs chief with Idaho FSA.
"We had very few rejections," Abbott said.
Acres will also be down substantially in Washington, where 1,319 offers were accepted for a total of 198,659 acres, but 253,842 acres will expire. Only 27 Washington contracts were rejected. Oregon is the exception, with 337 offers accepted totaling 59,519 acres, compared with 56,477 acres expiring. Just 11 Oregon contracts were rejected.
"Guys can make as much or more growing a crop than they can putting it in CRP," Abbott said.
Bonneville County topped Idaho for most new CRP land at 15,945 acres, but is also poised to lose 19,900 acres when contracts expire. Fremont County, with 5,542 acres awarded, was second on the list for new contracts, but has 7,215 acres set to expire.
The deadline for the general signup was June 14, and contracts will be finalized with producers between now and Sept. 6, Abbott said. He said producers who won contracts may still opt out of the program but would incur a fine of 25 percent of the value of the first year of their contracts.
CRP awards yearly rental payments to growers in exchange for taking environmentally sensitive land out of production and planting species that improve environmental health and quality. Contracts of 10-15 years are accepted based on scores, derived from erodibility of a grower's land and the scope of the investment a grower is willing to make on environmental improvements.
Although there was little competition for available acres this year, Abbott said Idaho growers offered high-scoring contracts, nonetheless. The federal government set the minimum Environmental Benefits Index, used to rank CRP offers, at 209.
"I would say the average EBI was 250. We have some into the 300s," Abbott said. "They weren't trying to short this thing. They wanted to make sure their ground got back in. People are giving us a lot of benefits for the program."
Abbott said much of Idaho's lost CRP acreage should be offset by land retirement programs with continuous enrollment, including State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. He said southeast Idaho's SAFE program, intended to provide sharp-tailed grouse habitat, is approaching 100,000 acres, and there's substantial interest in a new SAFE program in northern Idaho.
Lois Loop, farm program specialist with Oregon FSA, said many of her state's EBI scores were in the middle 300s, and several producers offered to create rare and declining habitat or to plant flowering plants to benefit pollinators to obtain extra points. In addition to increasing its CRP acreage, Loop said Oregon has been expanding its CREP program, which now includes 40,000 acres managed to provide buffers along riparian areas.
"I would expect by the end of the year to have another 1,000 acres signed up (in CREP)," Loop said. "There are more choices as to where to put your ground to be able to benefit ecological needs."